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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Life Stories

The Human Train
• Kim Farleigh

Train compartment

Platform lights illuminated her pleased eyes as she entered Jones’s dark compartment, her body like an hour-glass leaf swaying in a breeze. She removed a glossy magazine from a bag. Her pink top, white jeans and cream shoes, and the creaminess of her face and hands match, Jones thought, that magazine's shininess.       

“No torch?” Jones asked, when she started reading.

“A torch!” she replied, grinning.

Her teeth were bone white.

“It’s money, tickets, passport, torch,” Jones said. "The essentials for travelling."       

“A torch!” she gasped, guffawing.

"True travellers," Jones said, "use torches."

She tilted her head back and laughed.

“Have you lived in The States?” he asked.

She had a slight American accent.

“New York,” she replied, her head swaying wondrously. "Weerrrrild placceeee."

Platform lights flashed by as the train left.      

“That book you’re reading is my favourite,” she said. “I came into this compartment because I saw you reading it.”

“Chapter Twenty,” Jones replied, “is the crux.”

Her creamy face froze. He hadn’t said: “Yeah, it’s great, hey?” like they might have said in New York. 

“What happens in Chapter Twenty?” she asked.

“The narrator visits the butterfly lover and learns how to be.”

“How’s that?”

“Risk, sink, then rise again, increasing wisdom through perseverance and failure.”

“I’ll have to read it again.”

Her wonderment disappeared while acknowledging a new necessity.

“Are you a student?” Jones asked.

“I’m starting economics in October. I’m teaching English at the moment to survive.”

“I’ve taught English as well,” he said.

“Did you like it?”

“I hated it.”

Shock-wave dimples gorged her cheeks. She looked interesting when spontaneously delighted.

“Only artist, sportsman, pilot, astronaut, musician, writer, film director, war correspondent, politician, astronomer, comedian, doctor, architect, publisher, researcher and front-line aid worker are worth taking the destructive path for,” Jones said. “The rest are absurd.”

“So economist doesn’t count?” she asked, smiling.

“You’ll be bored, but rich.”

Three Japanese entered the compartment. They sat facing Jones and Ivana, eye contact avoided. The Japanese irises–alert in expressionless faces–revealed passion amid features drained of emotion. Facing knees touched in the cramped compartment.

Jones said: “We’re in a reserved compartment.”

Three statues, cast from the same cultural mould, stared up as Jones and Ivana rose, the Orientals’ heads lifting simultaneously, with involuntary hope, pretentious neutrality surrounding the yearning burning in their eyes.

Ivana dragged her bag out into the corridor, the Japanese not looking, pretentious disinterest exposing their desire that Jones also leave, Jones quipping: “Sayonara.” 

Three stoic Japanese heads spun involuntarily towards him as one, Jones’s “Hah!” not affecting their immutability.

Jones and Ivana went along a pitch-black corridor. The train rattled, darkness and brilliance alternating, the train clanging: SWERWISSS…CLERLANGGG…..

In an unoccupied compartment, Ivana said “Ahhhh” in relief.

Jones put his passport and money down his jeans. He stared out the window while she slept. Full-moon light outside suggested filming with filters to produce night. Wisps whitened a dark-blue horizon. The world, like the time before insects, seemed free of abstractions.      

Ivana’s breathing lilts soothed, like someone whispering into a receptive ear.

An adjoining compartment's door got ripped open.

“Qué pasa?” an Italian yelled, Ivana not waking.

Someone backed away from the door, the Italian sticking his head out into the corridor and yelling: “Qué pasa?”

A man holding a knife placed a warning finger on his lips. The Italian slunk back into his compartment, the outside world now not his concern.

Jones’s door rushed open. A Zimmer frame! Not a mountainous thug! But a cripple with a Zimmer frame! too dark to see the man’s face; after mutual staring, the man left, leaving the door open, Ivana’s lilting breathing continuing, the Hungarian chicaned in by unconsciousness, her bed beside the sliding door.

Jones woke–light! Villas dotted emerald slopes, lemon and sky-blue façades within greenery, the ethics behind the acquisition of the money used to buy the villas contrasting with their beauty, the Zimmer-frame man perhaps “decent” by day, pleasant, like Southern Europe itself, someone Ivana may even have admired. 

Youth's greater need for sleep was amusing for Jones that morning for unconsciousness had saved Ivana from seeing the Zimmer-Frame Thief standing over her, like an ogre from a fairy tale.

“Are we in Italy?” she asked.

“If not,” Jones replied, “it’s the weirdest French I’ve ever seen.”

She didn’t have enough energy for giggles. Mornings, after slumber attacks our delusions, level enthusiasm. Nothing, however, that coffee can’t solve.  

“How long have we been here?” she asked.

“I believe,” Jones replied, “that the brain reached its current size 300,000 years ago. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

She produced a deep smile.

“Ten minutes,” he said, “if we assume that life started a week ago.”

She brushed her hair, her big eyes clear, a swan-like neck, sensuous concentration as she groomed herself. Her fingers ran through her purse like spiders’ legs flashing across a web, re-checking, delicately hunting for cash.

“My money,” she whined, “isss ger-onrrnnnn!”

Her bag had been beside her head; easy for the thief, Jones thought.

“I haven’t got,” she cried, “enough money to get from Bologna to Ravenna!”

Her mouth stretched into a bitter gash.

“Have you got your passport?” Jones asked.

“Yer ussz.”

“Credit cards?”


No problem, Jones thought. 

Her contracting neck caused tendons to protrude like tree roots in parched land, expansions turning her neck into a rounded branch, parched-land tendons, roundness, tendons, roundness.

Jones, realising he was a suspect, mentioned the thief and the Italian.

Ivan rose, crying halted. Her determination possessed night’s implacability. The Italian’s door got ripped open, the second time in four hours–again!–Italian eyes bewildered–the Hungarian not saying hello, the Italian groaning, saying: “He had a knife and did this.” (Chopping). “What else could I do?  I made noise, to warn….”

Ivana’s anguished facial lines mimicked an aged palm.

“He took my purse,” she blubbered, neck contractions returning; “then he put it back!”

Her listeners met this innocence uncomfortably.

“I’ll give you the money,” Jones said, “to get from Bologna to Ravenna.”

He had to shout: the train was flying through a dark tunnel, noise amplified, as if speakers, blaring out metallic explosions, covered the tunnel’s walls.               

“Ohhhh thankszzzz,” she said.

The Italian, with vivid, green, startled eyes, entered Jones’s compartment, those eyes making the Italian look amazed by life’s magnificence. He offered money, his generosity halted by sudden, loud darkness; light returned, then darkness, communication ravaged by the train’s rushing.

“Oh, thanks,” Ivana said.

The Italian’s face of gladdened munificence disappeared into darkness, the train in another tunnel, metallic clobbering greeting light’s return.

The seated Italian, facing the Hungarian, rocked with delight, saying: “No, no, no, it’s not much,” his eyes ejecting sweetness. “You need to eat–(darkness, clamour)–to have–(darkness, CLERLANG)–food–(BERANG!!) drink–(CLANG!!!)–to relax before–(ROARING CLATTERING SMASH KERRROOORRR)–taking bus.”   

Ivana opened her bag, offering wine.

“No, no,” the Italian said, smiling. “In Italy we….much wine….cheap wine….very cheap….we….anytime. You keep.”

The train, in another dark tunnel, seemed to be tearing through roaring, interstellar space.

Jones left the compartment to let the Italian work on the Hungarian, Europe’s rural idyll passing by, pink, red and purple flowers upon windowsills, cotton-ball clouds in blue above farmhouses in green under azure.

If I got robbed, Jones thought, would he say: “You need to eat, to drink, to relax, before catching bus?”

Black birds, leaving orange tiles, darkened azure.

Some people, Jones thought, might even give to avoid acknowledging that indifference prevails. But who knows? Indifference might really prevail in my case. I’m not rich or beautiful. Little reproductive worth. I can't even risk seeing if my theories about myself are correct. Being careful, for me, isn’t just common-sense: it’s survival. Strangers have no incentive to help me.    

The Italian glowed at the sleek Hungarian. Generosity and genitals, Jones thought, go hand in hand. I prefer Zimmer Frame's sincerity, stealing with impunity, knowing his victims don't care about him. Few could care about his physical difficulties–assuming those difficulties exist. The Zimmer frame would be useful in self-defence.

The Italian’s gesticulations imparted a high-pitched message that life is joy, his hands flapping like birds’ wings, aridity hardening in the Hungarian’s mask of amusement. An Italian woman observed this as she passed. That Italian woman was again bemused, this time by the change in the Hungarian’s demeanour. Jones had seen her looking mystified as she had passed by earlier when the Honey from Hungary's swan-like neck had resembled a gnarled tree trunk, the clanging train indifferent to pain.

“My grandfather gave,” the Italian clanged on, “his best potatoes to the girl in the fruit-and-vegetable shop.”

If Jones had heard this, his laughter would have been rendered inaudible by the train’s flight.

“And,” the Italian continued, “he---”

“How much,” the Hungarian interjected, with door-opening subtlety, “is it to go from Bologna to Ravenna?”

The Italian’s face, stunned by this slapping enquiry, froze with stung bewilderment, as if his tongue had been scythed out, his “enthralling amiability” now clanging like the train.

Yes, Giovanni, Jones thought, she couldn’t give a dried-out tortellini for your bullshit.

Her destination was close, her luggage in the aisle. I can’t keep this act up, she thought. Jones wasn't a problem, other than the fact that he was “a silly, old bastard,” because all pretences to communication with him had gone by mutual consent.

At the station, she said: “Thanks again.” 

Jones kissed her on both cheeks, saying: “No problem.”

Her façade smile got shredded by savage sincerity, wave-like disgust rippling from her hairline to her chin. His awful mouth had touched her face! Jones imagined stalactites of repulsion hanging from her cheeks, the frozen frost from his vile kisses.

He smiled as she turned away. Kissing, acceptable in one place is bizarre in another. In Spain and France it's natural and kind.

“Goodbye!” the Italian yelled, as she strolled across the platform. “I’ll write.”

Expect, Jones thought, the cold ravioli of rejection.

On the platform, the Japanese were carrying their bags, their careful insularity helping them avoid situations that reveal impartiality.

The rattlesnake train restarted its rushing. The Italian’s eyes, ejecting spiritless tedium, stared out a window, returning to routine without a beautiful blonde, the train dashing towards dreariness. 

Registering that that thing there–Jones–was staring at him, the Italian looked away.

If I lost everything, Jones thought, I'd be like a wildebeest crossing crocodile-infested rivers.

When the Italian fled from the train, he accidentally booted a beggar's box, coins dashing in different directions, the beggar's stubble-engulfed mouth shock-widening, the Italian fleeing down stairs, not looking back, coins rolling onto the track, the beggar white-eyed bewildered.

© Kim Farleigh September 2020


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